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20 February 2003, Immediate Release

Solicitor General gives permission for legal challenge against Coroner over work-related death

The Solicitor General, the Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC MP, has given her permission this week for a second legal challenge to be brought in relation to the inquest into the death of Stephane Aineto.

Mr Aineto, a 28 year old French man, was killed in Brighton in July 2001 when he was run over by a Council refuse truck. His family are seeking a fresh inquest and, in August 2002, had already been granted permission to bring a judicial review by Mr Justice Hooper. The two sets of legal proceeding will now take place be heard together.

John Halford, of Bindman and Partners, the solicitor for the family stated:

"The fact that the Solicitor General has given her consent for this further legal challenge will mean that the High Court will be be able to undertake a thorough review of all aspects of the way this tragic case was dealt with by the Coroner, including whether there should be will be a new inquest on the basis of the new evidence that has been brought to light.

Stephane’s death is a tragedy and nothing can change that. What can change is the response of the authorities and the potential for lessons to be learned, in order to avoid something similar happening in future. A death such as this calls for a thorough investigation, followed by a thorough inquest before a jury, with input from the Health and Safety Executive on questions such as the safety of the vehicle involved and working practices.

The inquest into Stephane’s death, in my view, fell far short of these standards. We will ask the High Court to find that it breached Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the right to life, one element of which is the right to an effective examination of a death in which central or local government bodies are in some way involved."

Under Section 13 of the Coroners Act 1988, the High Court may order a new inquest if it is in "necessary or desirable in interests of justice". However, in order for the High Court to make such a ruling it is necessary first that the Attorney General or Solicitor General gives his or her permission. It is this permission that has now been obtained.

It is thought that this is the first time ever that such permission has been given by in relation to a work-related death.

At the first inquest held in December 2001, the coroner concluded that Stephane’s death was an ‘accident’. She added that ‘why this happened one cannot say’.

However the inquest was held:

without a jury - when there should have been one;
without the involvement of the Health and Safety Executive - although the HSE is now conducing a criminal investigation;
without hearing evidence from the council - although they are responsible for the refuse collection in the city;
without hearing evidence that the GMB trade union had raised concerns about the safety of the vehicle involved in the death

Stephane was killed during the early hours of a Sunday morning, just as the surrounding clubs were emptying of Saturday night revellers. He was making his way through the designated pedestrian area of East Street, when the refuse truck entered it from the South, and did so in violation of a ‘No-entry’ sign.

Sandrine Mehadhebi Aineto, the sister of Stephane, commented:

"We are delighted that the High Court will now be able to make a full enquiry into the adequacy of of the inquest and consider all the new evidence that was not heard."

The family only learnt after the inquest that a union health and safety representative had two years earlier wanted Sita - the company contracted by the Council to collect refuse in the City - that a pedestrian would fall beneath this truck ‘sooner or later’ because there was no safety barrier between the front and back wheels. Nothing was done to modify the dangerous truck. And nothing was said about this at the inquest.

Sandrine’s husband, Karim Mehadhebi, said:

"we believe that the chaotic situation in the refuse collection service, and the lack of safety features in the truck contributed to Stephane’s death. The Coroner said that if Stephane had not been drinking earlier, he would not have died, but a friend of Stephane saw him only minutes before he died, and she said he was quite steady on his feet and did not appear at all drunk. Though the Coroner effectively chose to blame Stephane for his own death, we feel that such a dangerous truck should not have been driving through a pedestrian zone at that time of night."

The family are also seeking an unidentified witness who told the ambulance crew that Stephane appeared to ‘stumble and fall’ under the rear wheels of the Brighton and Hove City Council refuse truck. This mystery witness was never traced by the police, and the family are desperate to make contact with them.

The Centre for Corporate Accountability has been providing the family with advice and assistance through its ‘Work-related Death Advice Service’ and put the family in contact with the Public Law Project which initiated proceedings.

For Further Information:

Karim Mehadhebi (in France) karim@cena.fr
Ron Trussel (Family Friend) rontrussell@lineone.net
John Halford (formerly of the Public Law Project), now Bindman and Partners j.halford@bindmans.com

Contact the Centre on: 020 7490 4494

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Notes to Editors
  1. The Centre for Corporate Accountability is an independent non-profit advice, research and lobbying group at the forefront of seeking to ensure that health and safety law is properly enforced and that deaths and injuries resulting from corporate activities are subject to adequate criminal investigations, and, where appropriate, prosecution and effective sanctions. It is funded by Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust.
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Page last updated on January 11, 2004